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Supreme Court brief details evidence of diversity's educational benefits


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In their Supreme Court brief, AAAS and other organizations cite research showing that educational diversity encourages cognitive growth and critical thinking skills. | Adobe Stock

Scientific research has demonstrated that diversity among students leads to numerous education benefits, AAAS and nine other organizations wrote in a new legal brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear a case challenging a university's policy of including race as a factor in the second phase of its admissions decisions.

The amicus curiae brief, also known as a "friend of the court" brief, was submitted by the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The brief calls for the court to consider a wealth of scientific evidence related to Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which reaches the Supreme Court next month for the second time.

"In determining the constitutionality of the UT-Austin admissions policy, the court's decision should be informed by reliable and robust research findings as it has in previous landmark decisions," said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine in a statement.

"In filing this brief, we have again taken our responsibility as scientific societies quite seriously. A wide team of scholars has scrutinized all of the studies that have been undertaken since 2012, and we have concluded that the court needs to have accessible the cumulative knowledge now at hand," Levine said.

"Those of us working to diversify STEM fields have a stake in this decision. It is critical that the court have access to the best research available," said Shirley Malcom, the head of Education and Human Resources Programs at AAAS.

The case was initiated in 2008 and first heard by the Supreme Court in 2012, when AERA and seven other scientific organizations first filed an amicus curiae brief . The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that a lower court did not apply correct legal standards and sent the case back to lower courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the admissions standards, but the plaintiff appealed again to the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments for the case on 9 December.

To aid the court's deliberations on whether student diversity remains a "compelling government interest," AERA's brief outlines scientific research that finds that diversity encourages significant educational benefits, including growth in cognitive abilities, critical thinking skills, and self-confidence.

According to evidence presented in the brief, diversity in the classroom particularly helps minority students avoid overt discrimination and threats of stereotypes, both of which can compromise achievement. The brief also includes evidence that admissions policies that take into account race lead to higher academic performance by minority students.

Joining AERA and AAAS in signing the brief was the American Anthropological Association, the American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, the American Statistical Association, the Association for the Study of Higher Education, the Law and Society Association, the Linguistic Society of America, and the National Academy of Engineering.

The Supreme Court is expected to release a decision before the summer of 2016.